When you first put yourself out there in the form of a blog, people are quick to assume it’s because you live a life so insta-perfect that you can’t help but splash it all over the internet. In reality, many bloggers have a story to tell- one that isn’t so pretty, but is infinitely more important.
As we settle into our coffee, I feel immediately at ease with Julie of Dear Loves Blog. She sits opposite me, her slight frame curled around a decaf soy latte- a stark contrast to my gigantic dark roast and encroaching spread of notebooks and technology.
Julie is a blogger, so the story she’s about to tell me isn’t some groundbreaking secret. But it’s one thing to type your personal life out onto a page, where it can be edited and rewritten until you find it palatable enough to publish; it’s another entirely to tell the same story to a complete stranger while they scribble it down in a notebook.
We decide to start at the beginning- and being that we’re here to talk about eating disorders, the beginning goes all the way back.
A Rocky Start
Julie grew up in Abbotsford, but moved to Chilliwack following her parents’ divorce. As we chat, she describes a loving but passive father and a disconnected and confrontational mother- an obvious recipe for a tumultuous childhood.
There was always a dynamic of conflict… my mother and I butted heads, and belittlement and name calling were pretty regular things in our house.
Julie talks about her mother carefully, but bluntly. She describes a daily life punctuated by manipulation and control- and verbal abuse when those things fell through. With little parental engagement in her day to day life, Julie grew up without much encouragement or support. As you might expect, her sense of self worth was low- a problem that only compounded itself as she hit puberty.
Emotional abuse is a funny thing; the sum of it is somehow so much greater than its parts. Each incident of yelling, name calling, triangulation in isolation is not so awful that the child feels entitled to victim status. But every one of those occasions is one piece of a sad and complicated jigsaw puzzle that is usually carried through teenage years to adulthood, often with devastating effects on mental health.
In Julie’s case, the impact of her raising was chronic insecurity- and all of the baggage that comes along with it.
Depression & Disordered Eating
By Grade 6 she was regularly self-harming; her grades were plummeting. Dance, which was once a welcome retreat, became a source of anxiety as comments were made about her changing body. High school, which should have been a time to lay the groundwork for her future and bond with her peers, became stressful and exhausting. Partying, drugs, and increasingly serious self-harm habits were the norm.
It’s not like people were making fun of me all the time. There were maybe ten comments total throughout my teen years- but I obsessed over them and still remember them exactly, to this day.
At the age of 16, her behaviour came to a head when she seriously cut herself with a broken beer bottle. A trip to the hospital finally spurred parental intervention, and she left Chilliwack to move in with her dad. Her mother, feeling victimized by the situation, did not talk to her for the next year.
Julie describes partying as a symptom of her real issues; when she stopped drinking and doing drugs after moving in with her dad, she became embroiled in a struggle with severe depression. Her depression lead to weight gain, which masked her by-now disordered eating from all but her father and boyfriend.
Julie’s attempts to control her diet quickly spiraled into full-blown bulimia and a fixation on food. She describes being confronted by her boyfriend at the time and her angry defiance; a common thread among those suffering from eating disorders. She fought constantly with her dad’s girlfriend about food, refusing to eat provided meals and instead spending a fortune on food she could binge and purge with. As things got worse and worse, she realized she was no longer in control.
The Turning Point
By this point, her dad knew that something was very wrong. He convinced her to go get help at the age of 18 and she was put on the waiting list for a recovery program at St Paul’s Hospital. It took a year for her to get a spot in the program; by then she had reached her lowest weight ever and was dangerously emaciated.
At 19, Julie’s body was starting to shut down as a result of her malnutrition; she was admitted to the hospital and brought back from the brink through tube feedings and constant supervision.
Julie credits her “huge desire to be good at things” to her success in the residential program at St. Paul’s. Wanting to succeed helped to keep her on track, and she was able to move through the program relatively smoothly. The therapeutic aspect of the program involved Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which essentially helps to train your brain to react differently to triggers. Following that, family therapy was recommended- as expected, it did not go well.
Shortly after being released, Julie experienced a small relapse. This time, however, she reached out and got connected with new friends who could support her movement towards better mental health. As she emerged from the fog little by little, she found herself pulled towards advocacy and started to think about sharing her story.
Marriage, Motherhood, and Entrepreneurship
Julie met her husband at the age of 24, during the tail end of her struggle. She smiles more now as she talks about their relationship; married a year later at 25, she was finally healthy and ready to pursue advocacy with a supportive partner by her side.
She started blogging with no real direction or goal in mind; she just knew that she wanted to share some of herself with the world. While living in California for her husband’s schooling, she began taking photos for fun, which blossomed into a photography business as she honed her skills. After finding out they were expecting their first child, they returned to Abbotsford to start their family.
As we chat, Julie is candid about the mental health challenges that motherhood presents- especially for someone with a storied childhood. Postpartum depression, anxiety, more mundane challenges like sleep deprivation and mom guilt all have the potential to trigger old behaviours and old thought patterns. This could have been the thing that pushed her back down the hill she had just crested.
But it wasn’t.
She persevered, starting a small home-based business when her second son was just three months old. She continued to pursue photography, as well as writing her blog when time allowed.
Today, Julie is a wife and mother, the owner operator of Dear Loves Co., the writer behind Dear Loves Blog, and the woman behind the lens at Julie Christine Photography. She’s a known entity if you live in the Fraser Valley and have an Instagram account; her poignant images and thoughtful captions offer a small window into her personality and her passions.
So what’s next? Julie shares that she wants to spend more time blogging and sharing real, authentic experiences. She hopes that through candid authenticity she can reach those that might be struggling with similar experiences and help to lift them up- to show them the light at the end of the tunnel and the power of perseverance.
If you or someone you know is struggling with body image or disordered eating of any kind, be sure to check out http://nedic.ca/ for resources and information.